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Friday, October 23, 2015

Attack of the Yellow-rumped Warblers

Last Saturday I spent several hours birding at Floyd Bennett Field. The recent cold front brought a lot of birds into the area, but one stood out due to its sudden omnipresence - Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The North-40 section of Floyd Bennett Field is a series of grassy foot paths bordered by a scattering of trees, small shrubs, invasive vines and, in some places, walls of phragmites. The name comes from the fact that it is approximately 40 acres of undeveloped habitat at the northern-most border of this historic airfield. It is easy to get turned around and disoriented here, but thankfully one would only have to wander for a mile or two before eventually stumbling out onto one of the defunct runways. It was in this area on Saturday that I began musing about a frightening scenario.

As I mentioned, there were suddenly Yellow-rumped Warblers literally everywhere. When walking along the trails I was dumbstruck by the shear number of these 12 gram, hyperactive songbirds. They were feeding in the grass. They were chasing insects low, along the sides of the paths. They were hawking for bugs at the tops of the trees. They darted passed my face in pursuit of a flying meal. I even spotted several flocks flying passed high above the North-40. When I counted a few dozen directly in front of me I also wondered how many there were in the dense tangle of green between all the paths. What was the likelihood that there were over 10,000 of these recent southbound migrants in just this 40 acre patch? Judging by the constant presence of their distinctive "pip" call throughout Floyd Bennett Field, I'd say it was very likely.

Heydi and I slowly walked east along the trails, stopping periodically to scan the yellow-rumps for something different. As we continued walking all the birds would leapfrog ahead, always keeping a safe amount of space between us and them. Then I realized something that I was hoping that they didn't. There were so many of them, that if they all decided to turn around and attack, they could probably kill us. In Alfred Hitchcock's classic "The Birds", Tipi Hedren is nearly taken out by a roomful of crows and Herring Gulls. Consider this, it would take about 90 yellow-rumps to equal the mass of one Herring Gull. I weigh around 175 pounds and am pretty sure I can take one a few gulls. Six might be my limit. So if 500 plus yellow-rumps came at me it could be a slow, painful end for The City Birder. All those pointy beaks and sharp, tiny claws coming at me from all sides.
Running would be futile as these suckers are fast. Nightmares are made of this. I might be able to hold my own against less than 500. Imagine coming upon other birders after escaping this near death mobbing. You're covered in scratches and tiny peck holes. Feathers stuck in your hair. Black eye:

"Oh my God, Rob, what happened!"

"It was the yellow-rumps..."

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